Monday, February 22, 2021

Sloppy Seconds

Look carefully at the picture below, one I took before my Valentine's Day break and you can see a long standing and thus successful liquor outlet with trash piled high ready for pickup before the city's tourists wake from the night before. By the time they come out to frolic all this will be gone. For now the Garden of Eden high atop the Bull bar will be there and yes you can sit nekkid on a towel at the bar and be served by a naked employee. And no, I can assure you, if I've never bothered to have a drink at Sloppy Joe's or the Bull I have never gone north to the Whistle or to the titillating Garden of Eden. I've sent ambulances up there when it all got too much for a customer or two over the years. Luckily it's clothing optional so first responders retain their dignity.
The Porter House on the other side of Caroline Street has a couple of bars on the ground floor and I did visit that one at first until it got too youthful and filled with bitter craft beer for me but drinking in a  Victorian mansion is not always unpleasant. There's a theme here. Drinking on Duval is a popular pastime and now they tell us the summer of 2021 could be approaching normal in our first world country filled with vaccine and hope that the wretched virus will wander off to hurt poorer people around the world. 
So the question then becomes how much do you like Duval the way it is? Do you care that the city commission has hired KCI to spout platitudes about revitalization and public input while they figure out how to create a wildly exciting "experience" on the new Duval Street? Or do you prefer the current version, shabby down at heel smelling of beer and urine occupied by people shuffling up and down in the heat trying to figure where the famous non conformist Key West of legend has vanished to? Check out Mandy Miles' article in Keys Weekly if you haven't already:  Keys Weekly on Duval.
This sort of trendy developer-speak makes my toes curl:
“The goal of the project is to renovate and revitalize Duval Street,” the city’s RFQ states, “to increase opportunities for public use as an iconic civic space for leisure, commerce and tourism; address the infrastructure which will allow for reasonable maintenance frequency and reduce costs to businesses and taxpayers; improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles; and maintain mobility for desired transit operations for all users.”
But on the other hand their preliminary illustrations seem to indicate a move toward a pedestrian Duval with they say, shade and "hanging art" (the mind boggles slightly) and of course lots of lovely public input in a  town where five people gathered have six opinions on any subject. You can tell this is going to go well especially as Facebook already has naysayers attaching themselves to the notion of a redesign of Duval Street. I understand negativity for the sake of it but I doubt many people who will suddenly form opinions on the design process will actually spend any time voluntarily on the much derided Duval Street.
My own feeling is the time is long since overdue for Key West to lurch into modern urban planning and create a downtown attractive to residents with a flourishing local scene attractive to tourists and once again I will quote my favorite such example in Church Street of Burlington Vermont fame. The trouble is I don't see how that kind of third space (My "third space" explanation Here from 2008!) can develop in a town with massively high rents, out of control cost of housing which are two prime factors that kill off creativity and the artistic impulse. You can't be an artist on a  wing and a prayer when you can't pay rent on your rabbit hutch home or your sliver of street front for your selling space. You can beautify Duval all you want but at this rate all you will have is a shady walkway with hanging art surrounded by dreary chain stores of no interest to anyone not needing sugar or a t-shirt.
The mayor got a huge mandate to go ahead and clean up downtown Key West, to attract upscale tourism on a more modest scale and of higher net worth and I will be curious to come back and see how it went after I run the wheels off my van. Key West has the capacity to surprise the skeptical and there is a chance the beery droopy,  stupid t-shirt of present day Duval Street can be transformed into a vibrant attraction for a wide spectrum of people. I'd guess they need to draw in the vibrant people too but maybe there is a secret weapon the city will deploy to make Key West weird and quirky once again. I'd like that.
Imagine, Duval a pedestrian zone, sidewalk coffee shops and restaurants, one way streets with parking and bike lanes on Whitehead and Simonton and locals making plans to go downtown for a pleasant summer evening out, year round in the tropics. It will be nice if you can afford to live here.